Rescuers search for survivors in Afghan landslide

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The Panjshir mountains of Afghanistan. (Afghan Photographers image)

ROKHA DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Rescue efforts were under way for survivors of a landslide in remote northeastern Afghanistan on Thursday that officials said had killed at least six people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.

Melting snow in the mountains of Panjshir, a province north of Kabul known for its snowcapped peaks, had flooded a lake, sending water and mud cascading over villages below, the disaster management ministry and local officials said.

At least 10 villages had been “badly affected” with hundreds of homes, shops and cars destroyed, the Panjshir governor’s office said in a statement.

The torrent of water and mud had caused the Panjshir River, which snakes through the valley, to burst its banks.

At least six people had been confirmed dead, the governor’s statement said, warning the toll could rise.

Omar Mohammadi, a spokesman for the disaster management ministry, earlier told AFP that 10 people had been confirmed dead.

Jamil Ahmad was lying in bed just before midnight when he said he heard a sound like “jets” flying overhead.

“Somebody shouted ‘Flood!’ and I ran away with my family to higher ground,” Ahmad told AFP by telephone.

“The people started firing (weapons) into the air to warn others about the flood.”

The water and mud had inundated most of the houses in his village, and destroyed a religious school, two mosques and the main market, Ahmad said.

“Three women from my neighborhood and two laborers who didn’t hear the warning were taken away by the flood,” Ahmad said.

Villagers had been worried about the possibility of landslides after several days of increasingly warm weather, Ahmad said.

Most survivors were staying on higher ground for fear of more landslides, he added.

Photos posted on social media purportedly showed houses and farmland covered in water and mud from the swollen Panjshir River.

Deputy director of the disaster management ministry Mohammad Qasim Haidari said search and rescue teams were in the area and packages of food, water, blankets and tents were being sent to the displaced villagers.

About 10 people were missing, Haidari said.

Villagers using shovels and other tools were also searching for survivors in the debris, Mohammadi said.

“We have deployed everything at hand to help the people,” Mohammadi said.

Disasters such as avalanches and flash floods often hit in mountainous areas of Afghanistan as snow melts in the spring and summer. The problem is made worse by deforestation.

President Ashraf Ghani, who is in Brussels for the NATO summit, said he was “deeply saddened” by the latest natural disaster.

“A number of people have lost their lives” in the landslide, Ghani said in a statement.

He ordered “relevant authorities to provide urgent assistance to the affected people”.

The landslide comes as the country is in the grip of a nearly 17-year war between Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

p: wjg

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